Money, Moving

How we afforded our dream home

I’m going to do something bloggers don’t do. I’m going to share real numbers. Here is exactly how we profited from our homes and how we afforded our dream home just before our fortieth birthdays.

You don’t have to make big bucks to plan and grow wisely. It also doesn’t happen overnight. Nope, this is not one of those posts that promises to double or triple your money, or pay off anything in 30 days. We didn’t have our dream house at 20 or 30, but with frugal living during those years, we do have it at 40.

You’ll see that the Lord’s provision and timing, paired with planning and dedication, were the keys to meeting our goal!

Tuesday I talked about how we got out of $18,000 of credit card debt in a year. That freed us up to buy our first home. Next Tuesday I’ll talk about how we continue to live frugally, but happily!

In this four-part money series:

How we afforded our dream home - saving for a house - real numbers - profit from selling homes

Some important things to keep in mind as you read this post.

1. I’m not writing this to brag, but because I want to help and encourage you.

2. Our house or finances are not my identity. We plan on this being our forever home, but I am open and willing to follow God’s plan. His plan is better. I refuse to attach myself to things and am ok in my heart to abandon all of these things if that’s His call for us.

3. I realize millions of people have nicer, bigger, fancier houses than our homestead. I’m not the biggest kid on the block. But I also realize that many more millions of people do not. And I would never compare our old apartment to the poverty many suffer in.

4. It is loud and clear to me that the Lord has blessed us so that we can bless others.

5. I am not a financial advisor. This is only our personal journey, not professional advice.


Our 1st house

2009-2013

  • Price: $165,000
  • Downpayment: $65,000
  • Selling price: $225,000
home staging exterior landscaping before and after pictures

By 2009 Florida Real Estate market had crashed and housing prices fell drastically. Looking back, I see why God had us hold on much longer in that apartment than I had wanted. He had a long term plan, I had a short term plan.

We had paid off all our credit cards and saved a nice chunk of cash. Sorry, I can’t remember the exact amount. We were ready to go house hunting!!! (You’ll know what a big deal that was if you read this post.)

Marcello didn’t have a salary, he earned on commission, so we could only use my income to apply for a home loan. And that added up to $100,000. That’s not a whole lot here in one of the wealthiest cities in America, even with the housing crash. When I told my friend and Real Estate agent that we wanted a house with a pool, she did her best not to laugh at me. And boy, did we looked at some dilapidated, scary places!

Then my parents said they would loan us $50,000. We hesitated because we wanted to do it on our own, but finally gratefully accepted the help. We now had $150,000 plus our savings to find a home.

And finally it happened. A bordering town had a house WITH a pool and decent yard space listed for $185,000. It was a two bedroom with 1,600 square feet. I knew instantly when I saw it! Yes, yes, yes.

We were able to talk them down to $165,000 and we moved in a month later.

We. were. absolutely. freaking. out. We went from  our apartment (with rusted 70s appliances, rusted metal closet doors, rusted drains and who knows what leaking from the shower) to a HOUSE. With a POOL. And less-than-middle-of-the-line appliances, but everything was RUST-FREE!

I remember waking up, sipping coffee and looking out the kitchen window with the sun shining in, wondering if I were in a dream. Then the pool pump came on and I thought “we have a pool!” Then I thought, “oh crap, we have a pool!” We didn’t know anything about pools! Or anything else house related for that matter.

our first washer and dryer

Oh! And we got our first washer and dryer set ever! Neither Marcello or I had ever had a washing machine in the house! We had only used laundry mats. This was a big day. This poor delivery man had an audience of friends and family and had to witness Marcello and I jumping for joy. He was even coerced into taking a pictures with us.

There were just so many things we were grateful for because of the harder times. We floated around on a bubble for good, long time.

Tragedy struck about that time though, and we started to see the beginning of God’s housing provision in our life. There were a few reasons he found this house for us. One was to have a financial building block for future homes and his ultimate destination for us (our home now). And one was to provide shelter for our friend and His daughter, Ashby.

Her husband and Marcello’s best friend (who washed windows with him) died suddenly at the age of 33. She was five months pregnant.

She wasn’t sure where she should live. There were a lot of offers on the table, but then she found a key to our house on her key ring. She wasn’t sure how it got there. It felt right.

I still wasn’t pregnant, and God gave me His grace to not be jealous when they announced she was expecting. Spencer, her husband, would always pray before dinner that Marcello and I would have a child soon. And then it happened. The month after he was gone, I took a test and it was positive!

Marcello was now living with two pregnant women! And the neighbors were very confused. Haha! There were times of overwhelming sorrow and overwhelming joy. And we got to do it together.

Fast forward 9 months later and there were three adults, two babies, a dog and a cat in this two bedroom house. You can see why that house was very special to us. More on her story here.

Finances

Back to the money part. It’s hard to make this journey just about money, because it wasn’t just about money. It was using money to accomplish God’s plan for us.

Our new monthly housing budget:

  • Mortgage: $950
  • Parents’ loan: $500

As you can see, we didn’t want that generous $50,000 loan over our heads, even if there was no interest. I had us on an eight year plan to pay that off.

We built several thousand back up in our savings account as well.

As soon as I could start paying extra on the mortgage, I did. I knew this wouldn’t be the home we would be in forever, so I wanted as much equity in our home as possible when we decided to move.

I know this isn’t for everyone, but I knew that if that money sat in a savings account or someplace we could access it, there was a good chance we would spend it! This way it went straight toward debt. Even back then I had a goal of being debt free (mortgage and all) by our mid 50s.


To pay off your mortgage eight years early, make one extra payment a year. I did this by dividing one payment over 12 months and adding that to our monthly payment. So in this case, we paid $80 extra a month. This will not only cut back your loan time, but it will also save thousands on interest.


The more I could up it, the more I did. Marcello had been selling wine on commission, but now he had been offered a salary job. This was huge for us because I wanted to stay home with our first baby and found out my job would most likely be eliminated anyway.

So we started practicing living on his salary alone. As we practiced, we saved the money I would make until the baby was born as a cushion.

Also during this time:

  • We started using credit cards again for the rewards. We paid them off in full every month.
  • My student loan was paid off.
  • I started this blog and made $2 a month. (So that was a big help :)
  • I started freelance graphic design work.
pool area and lanai before and after

Selling our first house

After our second child was born (16 months after the first!), we got the itch to look for another home. We put our home on the market and accepted an offer the first week for $225,000. That’s $60,000 more than we paid for it.

Here’s how we made a profit:

  • The market had started to swing back up.
  • We painted and updated the exterior ourselves. ($500)
  • New roof. ($10,000)
  • We added features like this wall of built-ins to this basic house. ($1,100)
  • We updated the metal lanai poles and sagging roof. We did most of the painting ourselves. ($5,000).
  • I staged it like this.
  • God’s provision.
front living area before and after

We hit a snag in the selling process though, when the home inspection revealed a wall with a structural crack issue. We had to pay $10,000 to have it stabilized and re-inspected.


Our 2nd house

2014-2018

  • Price: $350,000
  • Downpayment: $50,000
  • Selling price: $400,000

In between selling our house with the wall issue and looking for a new house, we stayed at my parent’s rental house. It normally rents during the FOUR months we were there. (That wasn’t supposed to be part of the timeline!) But would you believe that two families cancelled their rentals? So it remained vacant for the exact days that we were there.

I was beginning to wonder if we would ever find our next house. But I refused to worry. God had been so faithful to us and our housing needs, I knew he wouldn’t stop now! And sure enough, we signed our closing papers on our old house the same day we signed our offer for our next house. He is faithful.

We had the same experience with second house as we did the first. We pulled up to the driveway and both said we’d take it! The day before I had seen a house for the exact same price with less square footage, a choppy layout, low ceilings and neighbors with neglected exteriors.

So when I saw this house, I wanted to sign on the dotted line immediately. We put in an offer for asking price the same day they put it on the market and got it.

We actually could not believe it. If we thought our first house was amazing, this one knocked our socks off! We certainly didn’t feel worthy of living in a house like that. Certainly someone would figure out we didn’t belong there and take it back.

Plant wall with white pots and Ikea lack shelves

Finances

Our second house was where I really latched onto long-term and short-term goals. I always have discussed everything with Marcello and sought his approval, but he has let me take the financial reins. And I truly believe that God made me this way to accomplish His purposes.

Our new monthly housing budget:

  • Mortgage: $1,650
  • Extra toward mortgage: $150-350
  • Parents’ loan: $500
  • HOA: $400 quarterly

Marcello had been promoted shortly before we moved, but our house expenses ate up almost of our income. I don’t think this is for everyone, and wouldn’t even necessarily recommend it. But God had a plan for us and I knew it in my bones.

I knew we were supposed to have a larger house with more land for people to park. It was to be a meeting spot of sorts with open doors and welcome to everyone. Knowing that we still had a final step, we continued to push hard into our mortgage debt to be able to afford that larger house one day.

Later God added to that “vision” that Marcello’s parents (who were living in Italy) were part of that plan. So we should be looking for a guest house for them. You can read all about that here.

But backing up a little bit, these were my goals in September of 2015:

Budget goals 2015:

  • Spread one extra mortgage payment over 12 months (now)
  • Put $150 a month into our longterm savings account
  • Up M’s 401K to 10 percent (Sept)
  • Open HSA accounts for our kids (Feb)
  • Max Marcello’s 401K to 18 percent (2018)
  • Pay off mortgage by 2029

Pretty intense, aren’t I? We didn’t meet all of these. The 401K isn’t that high and I still don’t have HSA accounts for the kids! But you have to aim high or you won’t go high.

Also during this time:

  • We had our third baby!
  • My blog started to make $150-300 a month.
  • I had more freelance graphic design work.
  • We were $7,000 away from paying off the $50,000 loan from my parents.
kitchen space makeover with only paint

Selling our second house

Fortunately all the fixtures, tiles and appliances in the home had neutral colors and were in great working condition. Knowing that we would not be staying there long term, I chose to refrain from doing anything extra and put that money toward our mortgage instead. We actually didn’t do anything to the home except paint (alllllll) the walls and cabinets (still my most popular post).

I wavered back and forth on whether it was time to sell our last house or not. But the decision was made for us this time! Marcello’s parents’ immigration papers were approved out of the blue, so it was time to go. We only had four months until they expired! Within a week we had our house spruced up and on the market!

I was concerned about putting it on the market over Christmas, but it worked to our advantage as there was less selection in the neighborhood. We put our lights and decorations up one day and literally took them down the next!

I was so grateful for God’s preparation on all accounts — knowing there was one more house in our future, preparing me to live with in-laws, giving us the determination to be debt-free and the perfect timing of each and every step. All of these things were because of Him.

We accepted an offer within a week that was $50,000 more than we paid four years prior.


How we bought our dream home with real numbers

Buying our 3rd house

So that puts us at our final stop, here at our current house, 10 years later. I don’t know what to say except Marcello and I know we don’t deserve to live here. But we both vow to make this house a safe haven for others and use it any and every way God calls us to. This is His house.

You just wouldn’t believe how He showed up in the details of this house. I documented it all in this post. I still can’t believe it! It’s like he built this house just for our family and friends.

large white living room with cathedral ceiling

The main house is 2,900 square feet. The guest house (the tour is here) is about 1,100. It sits on a little over two acres of land right in the city. It has a basketball/pickle ball court, pool, raised garden bed, shed, pizza oven and paved driveway.

We were able put the profits from the previous two houses, plus all the extra mortgage payments, toward the downpayment.

In addition to that, Marcello’s parents sacrificed in every way imaginable for four years to add one-forth more to our downpayment. (You have to read their story here. Talk about hardship and determination! You can also see the emotional video of the first time they saw their house here. Get a tissue.)

By God’s good grace, we somehow landed a four percent interest rate. We no longer have HOA fees or water and sewer fees. Dario does most of the yard work. We eat a lot of the produce that grows in the garden and from the fruit trees on the property. We’re still house poor! But all of these things cut back on expenses.

I’ve been extremely open, using our real numbers thus far, but I’m going to pull back here for safety and discretion. I hope you can understand. I also don’t show the front of our current home for similar reasons.

But I will share my new financial goals for the next three years!

Financial goals

  • Make an extra mortgage payment a year
  • Knock out the remaining few thousand we owe my parents
  • Actually open HSA accounts for the kids!
  • Build a savings account with six-months salary
  • Tithe more than 10 percent
  • Not be house poor :)

Frugal rules we live by

We didn’t get ahead overnight or use any get-rich-quick schemes. We got ahead little by little, improving each house in cost-effective ways and maintaining a frugal lifestyle. Here are the rules we try to live by:

• Don’t spend more than you make.

• Give God back at least ten percent of what He has given us.

• If you put it on the credit card, the money should already be in the bank to pay for it.

• If you carry a balance on your credit card, you need to stop using it.

• If it’s over $100, we consult one another.

• We share all bank accounts and hide nothing from each other. Accountability save so much money!

• We set financial goals for the year and for the next 10. It’s important to have a longterm plan.

• I rarely pay full price for anything — food, clothes or home decor. More on that next week!

• I make a monthly budget and update it once a week. When the budget money is used up, we stop spending.


I don’t think everyone — even most people — are called to be house poor. (And by the way, we don’t plan on staying that way for long!) Opening up our home and being hosts is something God called Marcello and I to, but His call is different to each and every one of his children!

Your dream home could be a tiny house. Or an RV that can travel the country. Or a fancy condo with all the upgrades.

In fact, what is your dream house? I want to know! Where are you living now? Do you like it? What are your goals?

Marcello continues to get promoted and I continue to make a little bit more from blogging. We know as we grow, God will direct our steps. We have been blessed so that we can bless others and we fully look forward to that!

Don’t forget, a blessing is something that brings you closer to the Lord. It’s not things or money, it’s intimacy with God. And blessings aren’t meant to stop with you, they’re meant to be poured through you, onto others.

We still think of ourselves in many ways as those kids in the crappy apartment and we wouldn’t trade those days for anything. We’ve been through it all together and that’s better than any house.

A blessing is something that brings you closer to the lord

Next: A comprehensive guide on how to live frugally (and happily)

In this four-part money series:

9 thoughts on “How we afforded our dream home

  1. Thanks so much, Claudette! This one was a little vulnerable and scary for me, so I truly appreciate the encouragement! xo

  2. Love this so much! I believe we live in our dream home and we’ve gotten here because we picked the ugliest house on the street and over time did projects to make it one of the nicer ones. I also painted every surface which makes the hugest difference—even tile! It’s light and bright and everyday when I wake up I’m thankful it’s ours! I love your financial/saving/frugality posts- keep them up!

  3. Great post, Kate! I love this series. What is my dream house? A house with a big yard with big trees with a big front porch and a big view out to those trees. I also really want pretty painted siding with thick white window trim inside and out. I would also like room for my boys to spread out a bit inside and it would be really awesome to have a pool. Where am I living now? In a 3 bed/2 bath brick house we bought as newlyweds. We’ve lived here for 17 years. Do I like it? Yes and no. It is in a really good location. Close to school and halfway between church and my husband’s work (30 min. away each in opposite directions). Our boys’ rooms are too small to share, though, and it would be great to have a playroom / hangout space. Our backyard is also really small, and would never accommodate a pool. What are my goals? To save money, sell our house, and build a custom home on property that backs up to woods. We bought a lot in a neighborhood that checks off most of my wishlist, except the house has to be all brick, there’s probably no place for a pool because of the terrain, the neighborhood keeps having issues with flooding, and dealing with the POA hasn’t been great. We are really not sure what our goals should be, honestly. I waffle between going for it and building, or selling the lot, and either buying an existing house with 4 bedrooms, or staying here and making do. I think we could pay off our current mortgage before our oldest graduates high school in 5 years. Logically, it makes the most sense to stay put and pay off the mortgage. Our boys are crowded now, but it won’t be crowded forever. Whenever I think about NOT building a house, though, I feel like I’m giving up on my dreams, and I get really down. I just don’t know if building on the land we already purchased is the right thing to do or not. We prayed about buying it, and felt like it was the right thing to do at the time, but sometimes I wonder if God wanted us to buy it as an investment, rather than to actually build our house there. The area around the lot is growing quickly, and prices have gone up since we purchased it, so it’s likely we could make a profit. The thing is, though, prices are going up all over our area, so if we were to buy different land to build on, we’d have to pay more for it too. So… super long comment! ;) I really enjoy your posts and how open you are. Thank you for taking the time to share!

  4. That’s amazing, Christine! A girl after my own heart, painting EVERYTHING :) What a beautiful thing to wake and be grateful for where you are. xo

  5. Jenny, thank you so much for sharing about your life and living situation. I really appreciate it and love it when this site and be a conversation instead of a monologue. I think most of us have predicaments like this at least once in life! Thankfully, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer. I’m saying a prayer for you and your family that you will choose the option than will work best for all of you! Also, it’s very impressive that you only have 5 years of your mortgage left! Sounds amazing to my ears as we just started on this one. I can’t wait to hear what happens. Keep me posted.

  6. Kate, thank you so much! I wish there was a right or wrong answer (and that the right one was obvious!). Ha. :) We have more than 5 years left on our mortgage, but I think with some planning and diligence, we could pay it off in 5 years. The thing that scares me most about building a home or even buying an existing house is that the 20% down payment we would need to get started on the new mortgage is roughly the same amount of money that would pay off our current one. Sigh… If the decision was purely mathematical, it would be a really easy choice. So, I will keep waiting and praying about it. Thanks for your prayers!

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